York castle has been standing since the beginning of the middle ages. It began as a simple, wooden Motte and bailey castle, gradually developing into a much stronger stone Motte and bailey. There are so many reasons why York castle was actually built and why it is still standing to this day. William the Conqueror famously invaded England in 1066 in the battle of Hastings; he then became king on Christmas day the same year. He gradually moved his way through England building Motte and Bailey castles in important locations, which is the reason York castle stands today, due to William wanting to solidify his power.
In this essay I will explain in depth why York castle was actually built and maintained. The essay will analyse the location, power and overall reason for York castle to be built. Before the 1066 battle of Hastings, York was already a highly important place which because of its good long term background William had to control but was well outnumbered in England being only roughly 10,000 of his Normans to around 1-2 million others.
This is why William needed to build so many castles across the country so he could control and over power the nation. The castles were a perfect solution for William as it showed the people in his key locations where they stood, as every day they had to look up to a high built castle knowing a Norman built it. The castles gave his men shelter, any rebellions were to attack the castles as they were his key locations, the castle was Motte and Bailey which was a simple, quick and easy castle to build.
His castles were used to show England that the Normans ruled, this could have changed peoples views or it could have shown them exactly where they stood. William certainly stamped his authority in all key locations. William entered York in 1068 which is when the first castle was built. He placed 500 of his soldiers here to keep a watch over any rebellions etc. happening in York. A rebellion did soon break out with the Northumbrians (Vikings) when taxes started to be collected, but this was soon crushed by William and his men.
This is when William Realised maybe York needed to have a tighter control and built yet another castle on the other side of the river Ouse, which meant that all of York was under secure control and an added bonus that the river Ouse was also well under control preventing any unwanted boats etc coming in. In 1069 a second rebellion occurred, but a much, much bigger rebellion; Denmark’s and Northumbrian’s against York. They captured York but William later re-gained it and ruthlessly ‘laid waste in whole villages, destroyed all crops, killed al animals’ from the Humber to the Tyne.
This rebellion caused so much death and devastation. William wanted this to show any others who were to rebel what would happen to them and their communities. After all of this destruction William rebuilt the castles and dammed the river Foss which gave the castle and extra defence from attackers, this is the time in which York castle began to be seen as part of York’s landscape. In 71AD the Romans situated themselves in York to build a fort. They saw York as a perfect place to settle as there were two rivers (Foss & Ouse) giving them a good natural defensive site. They had situated 5,000 roman soldiers here.
The fort gradually grew in size, becoming a highly important fortress. This is when the town grew and grew became a commercial centre, trading goods from all places, using both rivers to import goods as the Foss is linked with a large industrial city, which means more and more goods would be traded. At this time, Eborocum (York) became the capital of the north; this is the key to York becoming a hugely important place. The Saxons therefore saw the potential that York had and quite simply extended it even more, bringing education, religion, culture and trade into the city.
They built over any Roman defences an even built a wooden church (York minster) which was a landmark in Eborocum; soon renames to Eforwic. The Saxons had used the Romans establishment to upgrade it and York’s overall importance. Vikings from Denmark then saw that York was such an important place where they could gain power, and therefore captured Eforwic renaming it Jorvik which then became Northumbria’s capital; bringing the city yet even more importance, and causing the Vikings to build wooden walls around the city to stop rebellions and earth ramparts for overall protection.
York’s population soon grew and traders were coming from all over Europe. This could be the reason the Saxons then decided to remove the Vikings from York and re-claim it, although this happened York did keep all of its strong links with the Vikings. William the Conqueror in 1066 won the battle of Hastings, becoming king on Christmas day. The Romans, Saxons and Vikings effect on York were all the reason why William went to so much trouble just to take control of the city. If he wanted to gain power then this was his chance because of York’s gradual rise of importance it was only going to go up from there.
When him and his Normans became in control, York had its final rise in power; it increases in size, its population increased, it was trading goods from all over Europe, he dammed the river Foss as an extra defence, he rebuilt any castles, and strengthened all defences. This meant that William was the founder of the still standing York castle, as he wanted to show the Vikings that Normans now ruled York and although if William hadn’t come to York there wouldn’t be many rebellions anyway, the castle defended the Normans from any attacks that did occur.
As the importance of York itself declined, the need of maintaining the castle declined also. This is shown by the crack that can still be seen today, stemming from 1360 when the great tower split in two places due to the decaying foundations. When the war of the roses occurred, Richard II and Henry V visited the castle to decide it was no longer a ‘military objective’, causing the cost of repair to be too high, therefore the castles importance to go rapidly downhill along with the importance of the city itself.
Although York Castle was in decline, some people did find it useful, for example during the English civil war, it was used as the military headquarters for the north. This mean that the castle was maintained long enough for the amount of time it was needed for. After the canon hit, it was realised that castles weren’t really acceptable for military bases anymore, as there was now a powerful weapon able to get through any defences. This was a huge decline for York, and the castle no longer needed to be maintained. York castle has had many functions/uses from when it was built in 1068, all the way to its decline.
Although the castle lost the function of a military base, it is still used for many other purposes. The many changed in York itself can be seen upon in the different uses of the castle. In the middle ages it was used as a royal mint and a workshop and a tax collecting centre. The Bailey has kept the theme of law, holding a ‘Debaters prison’ an ‘Assize court’ (crown court), a ‘Female prison’ and then a further prison built a bit more recently (between 1825 and 1934). It can be seen that although the purposes of York castle changed many times, all stayed within the law an order theme.
This may have been because a place for law was required, and the prisons were placed where the old Bailey was. In 1938 the female prison section of the Bailey was converted into the castle museum. The museum has been maintained over the years in order for tourists visiting York. To this day, York Castle continues to be maintained. This is due to the reaction of tourists towards the castle. As travel improved, more and more tourists flooded York, making it worthwhile to yet again maintain the castle for Tourist use. The improvement in travel made the museum and castle accessible for people from other areas of the country.
The castles uses began to incline, using the museum to produce an income, whilst at the same time presenting York’s history to people from all around the world. For this reason, the maintenance of York Castle is insured to be kept on top of for years to come. Although each reason for maintenance of the castle is important, I think that the military reasons top any others. If it wasn’t for the history behind the castle, it wouldn’t be any interest to tourists today, and therefore would not have been maintained in any way.
Firstly if there was no threat towards York and its Castle, it wouldn’t have been upgraded to its stone build we see today. As the threat of attack towards York declined, so did the castle. Military uses for the Castle went downhill and didn’t return until the civil war, as it was turned into the military base. Although the castles uses came to a halt when the canon became a more popular weapon (as it could destroy the castle and its defences), the Bailey still existed on the law side of things, being used as prisons.
The reason York castle was maintained so much was probably due to the change in uses so frequently, and even when military purposes did begin to stop, the museum took its place to represent what York was/is all about. Overall, York Castle was built to defend the city, and to bring in money. Money was made through the natural defences built, making it able for goods to be imported and exported from the city. Religion (due to the long term history), bought in more people from all over the world, therefore producing more trading links, and many more taxes, providing much more money for the city.
Due to York as a city being important, the castle was upgraded to stone, which again upped the importance of the city. When the threat of attack disappeared, the use of the castle also lessened, and as the natural defences dried up, the transportation of goods stopped, meaning York lost its links with the trading market and as a city lost a lot of money. The purpose of the Castle has changed a lot over time, and now its only purpose being for tourists to look at the cities history.